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A Guide to Researching and Vetting an Aircraft for Purchase

Welcome to section 4 of our 7-part Buyer’s Guide to Successful Aircraft Purchases series! In this installment, we’re diving into the details of vetting an aircraft before purchase. After you’ve defined your mission, budget, and market value, it’s time to buckle up and get into the nitty-gritty—reviewing logbooks, arranging pre-purchase inspections, and more. This guide is tailored for first-time buyers and newer pilots, so grab your clipboard and let’s get started!

Creating Your Research Spreadsheet

Just like when you got your pilot’s license, there’s a lot of data to assimilate. Now is a great time to bust out the spreadsheets. Here are the columns you may want:

  • Year
  • Make
  • Model
  • Aircraft hours
  • Engine hours
  • Prop hours
  • Asking price
  • Link to the listing
  • Date listed
  • Interest level
  • Tail number
  • Avionics (or other key points)
  • Notes

Rate your interest level and start contacting sellers for more information.

Like any other large purchase you will want as much data about and the asking price of any item. Aircraft with missing logbooks or high asking prices are not necessarily a no-go.

Logbooks: The Aircraft’s Diary

First things first—logbooks. Here’s what to look for at first glance:

  • Organization and Cleanliness: Are the logbooks tidy and complete?
  • Gaps: Are there any periods where entries are missing?
  • AD List: Has the mechanic furnished a current Airworthiness Directive (AD) list?
  • Component Lists: Some logbooks may include lists of components and their overhaul schedules. This is a sign of meticulous care.
  • Incidents: Check for any incidents reported. Use resources like MyAirplane Reports to find NTSB reports and review the logbooks for repairs indicating minor incidents or hangar rash.
  • Engine Overhaul Details: Check for receipts and yellow tags to confirm the quality of overhaul
  • STC: Supplemental Type Certificate, if there are any major changes from the original specs on certified aircraft it is wise to be sure it is documented with an STC filed with the FAA

An incident or missing logs do not necessarily disqualify an aircraft, but ensure repairs were done correctly and completely. Regular maintenance items like hose replacements are important but not always deal-breakers. Depending on climate and use, some recommended maintenance can be performed according to the manufacturer’s recommended schedule. Finding a mechanic you trust can be valuable in assessing these items individually.

Online Logbooks and Additional Records

Some sellers are prepared to provide logbooks online or via email. This can make the early stage of vetting much easier and means the prebuy period, once under contract can be shorter. The presence of logbooks, chain of title, registration history, and complete STC and 337 records ensures an aircraft’s value and predictability. Confirming, Pilots Operating Handbook, current Weight and Balance, performance specs, airworthiness and registration documents can also be done at this early stage.

Verifying Ownership

Use the FAA Registry to verify if the seller is the registered owner. It’s common for owners to use brokers or friends for privacy or convenience, so don’t be alarmed if the seller isn’t the owner. This is the first line in many to ensure the seller is authorized to sell the aircraft, essentially fraud prevention. There is a lot of fraud out there today and as we digitize the process further we will see more fraud. A little bit of good sense and using a third-party escrow service can go a long way in preventing a lot of headache.

Getting the Aircraft Under Contract

There are different types of purchases:

  • Traditional Purchase: Buyer and seller agree on a price, put it under contract, inspect/review logbooks, then complete the financial transaction.
  • Auction Environment: The vetting process and contract are completed upfront. When the winning bid is placed, the financial transaction follows.

Pre-Purchase Inspections

After reviewing the logbooks and specs, it’s time to see the aircraft in person. You can:

  • Hire an Inspector: Let them conduct a pre-purchase inspection independently or accompany them.
  • Conduct a Visual Inspection: If you’re experienced and confident, a thorough visual inspection, including removing inspection panels, may suffice to fully vett the aircraft.


Feel like you’re back in the right seat, just getting ready to study again? Remember, purchasing a Cessna 172 is very different from buying a Stewart Mustang, and so is the buyer! Whether you’re a pilot, engineer, or aircraft mechanic, understanding these steps will help you make an informed decision.

Join us at Airventure in Booth 4088, Hangar D or at the Aeroverse Booth 220 to talk airplanes and auctions. Mention this blog and get a free hat!

Stay tuned for next week’s edition of our Buyer’s Guide to Successful Aircraft Purchases series. If you have a concept you’d like to learn more about in aircraft transactions, make a comment, and we’ll pop the cowling!

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